Match Report v Falkirk RFC | Saturday 10 November @ Sunnyside
On the road again, only a short distance along the M9; this time, however, it was the day after the night before, and, to add insult to injury, we faced an earlier kick off time of 12.30 due to some other game of lesser importance at Murrayfield. I mean, come on – it was only Fiji!
Agra has the Taj Mahal, Rome has the Colosseum – but Falkirk has both the Wheel and the Kelpies, neither of which I have visited although I’ve seen both – hard to miss. More importantly, to continue my Jacobite theme (which you will be familiar with having read the Highland match report), it was here that they were victorious and built on the success as the ’45 gathered momentum. I was hopeful that Stewart’s Melville would emulate this feat – which they did!
We were greeted by a pleasant day, with bright blue skies and a gentle breeze. ‘Sunnyside’ was living up to its name – unlike in 1746, when it was torrential wind and rain and neither combatant was able to retain any structure in attack or defence (in contrast to Saturday)! As we know, Falkirk have been a bit of a bogey team of late, however, as the game started, there was certainly an air of expectation as to how things were going to pan out this time.
Falkirk started proceedings, although Stew Mel failed to secure their ball, the knock-on leading to the first scrum of the afternoon. Falkirk then moved the ball wide with good hands and a clever grubber kick through; Stew Mel were then penalised for offside, and, with only 3 minutes played, Falkirk had opened the scoring. At the restart, there was another knock-on and scrum and Falkirk cleared their lines – but the ensuing lineout gave Stew Mel the opportunity to progress into Falkirk’s 22. After a bit of football, we finally managed to play some rugby, giving Dave Allan the chance to open the scoring. 10 minutes played, Falkirk 3 Stew Mel 5.
The ball was taken clearly at the restart this time, giving a solid platform for Fraser Strachan to consider his options and gain some territory with a boot down the park and another scrum just over the half way line. At this stage I felt our set piece was good, and some ‘touch line’ chat with someone who knows a bit about forward play, and, indeed, about rugby in general (more than I ever will), confirmed what I thought. How right he was as the game progressed – complete forward domination.
Falkirk managed to get their hands on the ball once more and were running everything, particularly down the right side where they clearly had pace in the form of their number 14, Lawson. Their decision to kick through rather than keep the ball in hand gave possession back to Stew Mel, however, allowing us time to regroup. The game at this stage was probably equal in terms of possession, although Falkirk were gradually being pushed back into their 22 before they managed to break out again, working down the right hand side. Their winger was through once again for what looked like a certain try, but this was thankfully prevented by a cover tackle from the Stew Mel number 14. The ensuing lineout was good, as was the resulting drive down field, but an unfortunate interception on the blind side gave Falkirk an opportunistic try. 20 minutes played, Falkirk 8 Stew Mel 5.
More Stew Mel pressure followed, and, again, Falkirk found themselves on the back foot within their own 22 as we started to turn the screw. Pressure eventually led to points as Matthew Watson crossed over and Michael Miller added the extras. 25 minutes played, Falkirk 8 Stew Mel 12.
Another untidy restart gave Falkirk the upper hand as a penalty came their way, followed by a strong attacking spell where they were clearly over the line but the attentions of Sean and Fraser forced a ‘held up’ decision. It wasn’t, however, long before they attacked again, successfully this time. 30 minutes gone, Falkirk 15 Stew Mel 12.
Play resumed on the halfway line, and this time it was Falkirk’s turn to put pressure on Stew Mel within their own 22. The resultant penalty gave Falkirk 3 points, increasing their lead to 18-12. A period of play then followed which, while not pretty, at least saw us by and large retaining possession. A concerted effort on the blind side was relentless, and, eventually, paid dividends as Ruaridh Mitchell stormed over, bringing the half time score to 18-17.
The second half began with no wind and no low sun, almost perfect conditions. A strong start was followed by good phases and it wasn’t long before Ruaridh Mitchell again powered his way over. With 45 minutes played it was Falkirk 18 Stew Mel 22.
The forwards were certainly starting to work extremely efficiently as a unit, making significant progress and creating space for the backs. A penalty soon came and Michael Miller slotted it home, making the score 18-25 in our favour with around 50 minutes played.
A long kick at the restart was taken well by Dave Allan, who drove forward to give us a solid platform; some clever tactical kicking then put Stew Mel into a good field position and piled more pressure on the opposition. A quick tap and go, some great hands between the forwards and backs and quick ball wide found Stew Mel’s number 14 who touched down. 55 minutes played, Falkirk 18 Stew Mel 30.
We again secured the ball at the restart and some more impressive forward play put us well into Falkirk’s half as our pack continued to show their dominance. Further good interplay between forwards and backs ended with Momo driving over for another try. After 60 minutes it was Falkirk 18 Stew Mel 35.
An unfortunate mistake at the restart by Stew Mel gave Falkirk a small bit of hope but it wasn’t long before we were back in the driving seat after a short lineout at around the halfway line. More good hands between both forwards and backs ended with Matt getting over, the conversion by Michael Miller being successful. That made it Falkirk 18 Stew Mel 42 with 70 minutes played, the intensity and tempo of our play really starting to tell.
At this point a few substitutes came on in the back row, the front row and at scrum half, giving a well-deserved rest to those who had put in an awesome shift. Fresh legs are always welcome – unlike the yellow card that Falkirk now received. As the game reached its conclusion, Falkirk, to their credit, were still fighting, eventually enjoying a spell where their pack got the upper hand and managed to drive over. It wasn’t long before we restored our points differential, though, courtesy of another try by Matthew and a superb conversion by Happy. 75 minutes gone, Falkirk 25 Stew Mel 49.
Another try almost came our way in the dying moments, but, as the final whistle blew, I am sure our players were satisfied with the 8 that they did get – along with the bonus point, of course. Final score Falkirk 25 Stew Mel 49.
I was chatting to Momo at the Ball on Friday, as he supped his glass of Ribena, and I said, ‘tomorrow you will win – and you will score’. He wasn’t sure about either the former or the latter, but certainly did everything in his power to make it happen. Our form on the road has, thankfully, improved at last – I hope this trend will now continue. I don’t think it was necessarily a game of two halves – more a half of consolidation followed by perhaps one of the best 40 minute displays that I have seen from us this season. Both forwards and backs combined well, and, yes, the phases came together. Patience is a virtue.
The front row complement each other, Ruaridh Mitchell strong in the set piece and a potent force in the loose while the ‘young pretenders’, Connor and Doug, are as mobile as any backs with their aggressive running and ball carrying, not to mention their exemplary off loads. Both youngsters were inches away from scoring – but it’s a team game, and that is what matters.
Matt Sanderson plucks the ball out of the air with grace at the lineout and the back row of Willie, Alex and Dave covered every blade of the Falkirk grass. Special mention to Dave Allan who never seemed to run out of gas. I think he has found, in the back row, his ‘happy place’.
Behind the scrum, after a bit of a shaky start, it all came together, with Michael Miller in control at 10 and Fraser, as always, varying the play and executing some great kicks. The midfield of James and Happy put in a strong shift, particularly in defence. James powered his way through the opposition all day and Matthew Watson found his spacial awareness beneficial as he bagged a couple of tries. Of course the wingers, Kyle and number 14, did their bit in defence and attack.
It was a double header for Cash on Saturday. He will have been a happy man, the icing on the cake being his fellow countrymen preventing England from another controversial victory.
You may be relieved to learn that I will be radio silent during the forthcoming internationals but back for the big one against Biggar.
We have now reached the halfway line in the league and we are now hopefully building momentum. Onwards and definitely upwards!
Match photo c/o Jackie MacKenzie